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They seems to mean the same thing, yet when spoken they sound like the negative of each other.
What's the secret behind those two words?

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The second word derives from "ingenuity", which geniuses sometimes have. –  user730 Dec 16 '10 at 2:15
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up vote 14 down vote accepted

On the surface, one might think that ingenious is somehow based on the word genius. Interestingly, this is not true.

The word ingenious does not actually have the in- prefix for negation. Instead, it comes originally from the Latin ingeniōsus, which means "intellectual, talented, ingenious". At times in history it was also spelled "engenious". Indeed, ingeniōsus appears to be the same root that gave us the word engine.

Genius was originally different, but evolved to have a meaning that is similar to ingenious. It came to us from Latin, but it was originally Greek. According to the OED, it mainly had the meaning of, approximately, "genie" or similar type of spirit, in Latin. Figuratively, it was also used to mean "characteristic disposition; inclination; bent, turn or temper of mind." In English, German, and most of the Romance languages aside from Latin, it had the meaning of "natural ability" starting around the 1600s. The OED speculates that the meaning of genie was pushed towards the meaning of ingenious because of "confusion" between the two (that is, their superficial similarity).

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Excellent explanation. Just one thing: where did you find that genius came from Greek? The major Latin dictionaries (OLD, L&S) simply say it comes from the Latin/PIE root gen-, like ingenium/-osus, and LSJ says no similar word exists in Greek. The OED doesn't say anything about a Greek origin either. –  Cerberus May 12 '11 at 1:04
    
@Cerberus: OED says: "< Latin genius, < *gen- root of gi-gn-ĕre to beget, Greek γίγνεσθαι to be born, come into being." So that is where I got that idea. Am I misunderstanding the OED etymology shorthand? –  Kosmonaut May 12 '11 at 3:14
    
Oh, I see. I think they'd put f. ("from") or < before Greek if they meant that it came from Greek. In your quote, they trace back the etymology to *gen-, then proceed to say that *gen- is also the root of gignere, [and of] Greek gignesthai. It is kind of stupid that they still use these awkward run-on etymologies in the digital age, and with impossible abbreviations. I am forced to look up a. every time I use the dictionary, because I just cannot remember that it means adopted from (I looked it up again just now). –  Cerberus May 12 '11 at 13:51
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I had thought there was a separate notation to indicate sibling words, but I think you are right. Maybe it isn't used consistently. As for the formatting, I guess the current OED overhaul (completion date: 2037!) began back in the early 90s when book space was still a reasonable concern, and so they are probably keeping the format consistent throughout this version. It is depressing to think that, at this pace, they will never have a digitally-savvy version of the OED during our lifetimes! This is not the first time I have been confused by the super-compact way things are worded in there. –  Kosmonaut May 12 '11 at 22:36
    
Oh dear, that is sad indeed! Well, at least our children will get to live in a better world than we. –  Cerberus May 12 '11 at 23:41
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